GoGo Penguin Cast Under Glass's Shadow On Cult Cinematic Soundtrack

Jim Hickson
Friday, November 1, 2019

Mancunian jazz-electronica fusionists score Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi

Godfrey Reggio’s 1986 film Koyaanisqatsi was a revolutionary piece of experimental cinema, and it remains both hugely influential among filmmakers and a potent reference point throughout popular culture. With no dialogue or plot, the film is driven by variously juxtaposed footage of the natural and the artificial, brought together in a way as to render the familiar abstract. Equally as well-known in its own right is the film’s score, written by Philip Glass. It is a masterpiece of minimalism and rightly regarded as one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. When GoGo Penguin rescored Koyaanisqatsi, they had big shoes to fill. First commissioned in 2015, it was so successful that the group have continued to tour their rescore, with a live screening of the film itself, ever since. As part of their October tour, they brought the show to a sold-out EartH Hall.

Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (basses) and Rob Turner (drums) have created a work of their own recognisable idiom, a cool combination of icy jazz, sparse electronica and that same minimalism as pioneered by Glass and his contemporaries, by way of driving cinematic funk and classic-style jazz rock. For the work of just a trio, the score fits the epic nature of the film to an impressive degree, but they’re not afraid to employ their own juxtapositions as well, most effective when countering frenetic visuals with forebodingly calm Satie-esque soundscapes. This way they reflect the film’s title, a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance", and the wordless laments of human destruction presented within.

Comparisons to the original music are unavoidable. In fact, the music was such an integral part of the experience of the film, it’s difficult not to hear Glass’s pieces in the mind’s ear during the most iconic sequences, the images acting as a mnemonic for the sound in a reversal of the usual order of things.

GoGo Penguin’s score is gripping throughout, and especially so during the final third where driving grooves are alternated with hypnotic passages and culminate in a slow, poignant finale. Nevertheless, the original score was horrifying in its immensity and, inevitability, the reworked version delivers with a little less power. Taken as a standalone show, GoGo Penguin have done a great job of scoring such an impactful film; it’s just a shame that Koyannisqatsi’s original soundtrack casts such an indelible shadow that is hard to escape.

 

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